By Carolee Walker, Staff Writer, America.govTeam was to play in Fajr tournament at Iranian federation's invitation
Washington - The Iranian consulate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, did not issue visas to members of the USA Women's Badminton team in time for them to compete in an international tournament being held in Tehran, Iran, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood says.
"The paperwork for obtaining the visas for the team to compete in Tehran was supplied in time," Wood said at a February 4 daily briefing. "This is a very unfortunate situation."
Members of the USA Badminton Team, who were selected for an international
tournament in Iran
Twelve Americans - including eight female athletes, coaches and managers representing USA Badminton - traveled to Dubai, where they had hoped to obtain visas to compete in Tehran in the Fajr International Badminton Tournament February 5-8 at the invitation of the Iranian Badminton Federation.
"Our athletes were very much looking forward to the event and are very disappointed that they will not be able to compete and meet new friends," according to a statement released by USA Badminton Secretary-General Dan Cloppas. "Friendship through sport is a good thing that should be respected and cherished."
Wood said he believed the Iranian Badminton Federation has expressed disappointment that the visas were not granted.
"The Iranian Badminton Federation was sincere in their invitation to us and we completed our visa applications over two months ago in plenty of time to meet all deadlines," said Cloppas, who added that USA Badminton was told that the visas had been approved and that the Americans were asked to secure them in Dubai.
"It's unfortunate that we will not be able to compete and sincerely hope we will be extended another invitation in the near future," Cloppas said.
In addition to being an important international competitive opportunity for USA Badminton athletes, the visit to Iran was to be part of the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau's ongoing people-to-people exchange programs. Since 2006, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has hosted more than 250 Iranians, including artists, athletes and medical professionals, in a broad range of educational, professional and cultural exchange programs for the first time since 1979.
The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 after militants backed by Iran's revolutionary government seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held its diplomats hostage for 444 days. There is no U.S. Embassy or consulate in Iran. Switzerland serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran, and a Swiss diplomatic post is located in Tehran.
Through its Sports United program, the State Department has brought the Iranian national teams for basketball, water polo and weightlifting to the United States, as well as members of Iran's men's and women's national table tennis teams. The State Department also sent 20 members of USA Wrestling to Iran to compete in the prestigious Takhti Cup in January 2007. (See "Takhti Cup Competition Strengthens U.S.-Iran Wrestling Ties.")
USA Badminton said it still hopes to host the Iranian women's badminton team through the State Department exchange in July at the 2009 U.S. Open Grand Prix Championships in Orange, California.
"We are very interested in trying to improve relations between the American people and the Iranian people," Wood said. "This is not a good step forward in terms of trying to promote people-to-people exchanges."
Information on USA Badminton is available on the organization's Web site. Additional information on citizen exchange programs and Sports United is available on the State Department Web site.
About America.gov: U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests.
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